A lot of old guys filled the stage at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Tuesday night, two acts from the classic vinyl years who were no more than three degrees separated from every rock act on the charts during the 1970s.
Steve Winwood led several supergroups and had his own comeback solo career, while the Allman Brothers relish in its rich musical past but revives itself with new personnel every decade.
Winwood started the show, playing a full, 80-minute set, moving back and forth through most of his career. He opened with Traffic’s “Rainmaker,” then Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” followed by “Had to Cry Today.”
The audience showed surprising respect for the “warmup” act, in their seats and ready for him at 6:40 p.m. His voice was as clear as day, from the classic “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” to “Gimme’ Some Lovin,” a song he made famous at age 17 with the Spencer Davis Group. He ripped several guitar solos, the best on “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” and took a great keyboard solo during “Light Up or Leave Me Alone.”
The only disappointment was that there was no guest appearances from the headline act. No matter, there was plenty to hear from them, and Winwood came out later to join the Allman Brothers.
The Allmans came out heavy with the first song from the band’s first album, “It’s Not My Cross to Bear.” While Gregg Allman didn’t give his famous growl to open the vocals, Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks certainly handled the guitar parts.
They followed with their classic and abbreviated “You Don’t Love Me” and a surprise “Walk on Guilded Splinters,” a Dr. John song covered by Duane Allman.
The band has always been about its duel guitar work. Trucks is considered the greatest slide player today, a direct descendant of band founder Duane Allman’s playing. Together with Haynes, the two traded solos and played around and over each other, in the same spirit as the original duo of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts.
The band played its expected Allman classics Wednesday night, but the best moments were the fresher tunes, where they seemed to inject new energy. The most fun song was “The Weight,” sung by Winwood, Haynes and Allman. Allman, maybe more famous than ever these days, didn’t have his dark growls, but he carried his end on vocals and toiled on his organ out of the spotlight for a good part of the show.
“Revival” has always been an odd but good song for the band, with the repeated phrase “love is in the air,” and it was nice to hear Wednesday night, outdoors at SPAC. “Key to the Highway” was a treat, as well, and “Dreams” allowed both guitarists to take their time before launching into a duel crescendo, Trucks and Haynes showing us why they’re both considered among the best out there today.
“Blackhearted Woman,” another rough and tumble tune from the band’s first album in 1969, came toward the end of the night.
For the past 10 years or so, the Allmans have been playing as well as in their finest moments in 1970-71. Wednesday night had many of those moments, which is more than we should expect, and certainly a worthwhile reason to continue seeing them.